Updated: Aug 2
Behaviour charts, reward charts - they look great. Bold with bright colours, little sticker rewards to indicate that your child is doing something well or behaving as they've been told to. Children applauded for getting stickers on the chart and warned that stickers will be removed if they misbehave.
Seems obvious that this would be a good way to get children to do as they've been told...
But, do these charts really work? Let's look a little closer at the message it sends to our children and the real impact on their behaviour!
I'm good when I do as my told and I'm bad when I don't!
What we need our children to know is that their behaviour does not determine who they are! If we are constantly judging it good or bad we make them feel that they are sometimes lovable and other times not. For a sibling who happens to have more stickers than another, what visual message are we sending without intending to?
How I behave is what matters not how I'm feeling
All behaviour stems from a feeling of calm or a feeling of stress. If a child is feeling calm they are more likely to respond in ways we might consider 'good'. The feeling of stress can arise for so many reasons and this is when behaviour is usually not what we'd like from them. Judging the child's behaviour with a sticker on a visual chart will be ignoring the underlying issues they are facing.
Some of my feelings are accepted, others are not
Actually ALL feelings are valid and should be accepted. Anger is not a bad feeling. But what the child chooses to do with the anger is a different issue and this is where they need our help to teach them how to self-regulate and channel their anger in ways that are not unsafe for them or others. Punishing the behaviour does not teach the child, instead it is more likely to lead to aggression!
How I feel is permanent as reflected on the chart
Feelings are temporary, they come and go. How a child feels is not a permanent trait but a temporary state so having their behaviour which resulted from the feeling displayed on a chart can send the message that how I feel and then behave cannot be undone. This can bring a feeling of shame and embarrassment. This is not a healthy way to think about ourselves.
I need to earn my parent's affection
Children are desperate to be accepted and loved unconditionally by us. They will do pretty much anything to please us and that's the problem. With our constant watching and judging their behaviour they learn to look for external validation instead of developing their internal motivation. The fact that they are so dependent on us means we must be extra aware and intentional about what we actually get them to do to receive our affection.
The answer is nothing! Nothing they do should separate them from our love!
Here's the Bottom Line
This is not a blog against behavioural charts, as these charts are merely a visual representation of a wider issue of how we get children to 'behave'. Even when the charts are not being used a lot of us still find ways to modify a child's behaviour which could inadvertently send the messages above.
My most important finding is that constant behaviour watching and judging (rewarding or punishment) does not lead to long term behavioural change. Instead, it puts children on edge and can increase anxiety, self doubt and negative self talk.
In children who tend to get more stickers for 'good' behaviour they can become people pleasers that believe unless they are 'good' they are not enough. These children also get more anxious when they are unable to meet the standard and could eventually stop taking risks!
In some cases it increases apathy in children, they lose interest and give up, believing that they can never be good enough. This is usually the case with those who receive more punishment than praise.
But in both cases we are developing a fixed mindset in our children instead of a growth mindset.
You can join our online workshop in the 'No More... series' which includes: "No more Shouting at the Kids", "No more Homework Hassle" and "No more Tantrums".
To receive 1-2-1 coaching to improve your child's behaviour, click this link to find out about our unlimited hours coaching package.